The Gift of Pure Intention: Gyalwang Karmapa Thanks the Guru Sevakas
As the Monlam expands into a major festival, the infrastructure grows with it. This year there are twelve thousand people attending from fifty countries. Currently four hundred volunteers are divided into twenty teams to provide the infrastructure: cleaning, serving tea, preparing food, arranging seating, registering attendees and members, preparing tormas etc. There are technicians for the webcast, writers for the website, photographers videographers and translators. Considering the number and diversity of workers, the shrine room at Tergar Monastery for the meeting with His Holiness was unusually quiet. Each work team occupied a separate aisle and sat waiting patiently for the arrival of the Guru, while chanting mantras.
The Karmapa arrived on time, sat at a low table and addressed the audience with the kind of familiarity that indicates an old friendship .
To all of you who have come here to volunteer for Guru Sevaka, or serving the guru, on this occasion of the 32 Kagyu Monlam, I’d like to express warm greetings. As the Kagyu Monlam’s activity expands and its international presence gets bigger, there is the obvious need to support it in many different ways and you’re all supporting it, particularly with your genuine, pure intention. I’d like to express my sincere personal appreciation and gratitude for that, as well as on behalf of the Kagyu Monlam.
All of us have work to do, and we don’t have time to talk a lot. Initially I wanted to give you the printout of an image of Vajrasattva that I painted, as a token of my appreciation and gratitude. Actually I did it some time ago and it didn’t turn out well. So I did not feel comfortable giving it away, and I had it locked up. I’ve done another painting, but with so much going on, I didn’t get a chance to get it printed. As a token of auspiciousness, I have a hand-mala to share with all of you, as well as an image of Gesar of Ling.
The Karmapa then handed out a lustrous carnelian mala to each person in turn; and generously added a striking image he painted of Tibet’s warrior king, Ling Gesar, a hero similar to King Arthur, whose prowess in magical battles forms an epic legend sung by bards since the 12th century.
The Sangha’s Formal Lunch
A yearly event at the Monlam is a traditional sangha lunch in the main Tergar shrine hall. All those who hold full ordination vows – gelong and gelongma–are invited to eat in the shrine hall at Tergar during Monlam. Next to the fourteen long rows of yellow carpets laid out between the vermillion pillars are long strips of rich red cloth. For hours ahead of time, volunteers have been setting on this fabric,the alms bowls that rest on circular stands, and their covers placed nearby with a wooden spoon laid crosswise next to portions of vegetable tempura and the half circle of a tofu patty. The triangle of a napkin, a silvery bowl for tea, and a small carton of lassi complete the set up.The servers wait at their stations around the shrine hall. The front doors are still closed, but the side door is open as outside on the veranda sits the supply of food: huge meter-wide pots of rice (a word for rice in Tibetan is the same as that for meal, khalag) plus large containers of the six other vegetarian dishes being offered.
Suddenly, the Karmapa comes through this side door and walks the perimeter of the hall, stopping at the main aisle to face the Buddha and perhaps bless the hall for the gathering. As quickly as he had come in,he exits the side door on the far side, near the stairs to his quarters.
The sharp sound of wooden clackers breaks the silence, and the almost three hundred and fifty monks and four gelongma who will partake of the meal quietly file into the hall and take their seats. Rice is first offered into the bowls, and as they chant The Sutra of Recollecting the Three Jewels, the monks take some of it to make an offering of the first part of their meal.The other courses are brought round and then young monks come down the rows, stopping in front of each monk to respectfully offer them their alms bowls.
As the meal draws to a close, the discipline master addresses the monks, reminding them to appreciate all the hard work that went into preparing the meal, and of their motivation of bringing benefit to all living beings. When he finishes, a few monks go up and down the rows with bowls to collect the first offerings of rice. Finally, tea is poured in to the silver bowls. Clackers resound again and with dignity the monks pick up their alms bowls and place them in front of themselves. In a pulsing rhythm the Heart Sutra is chanted with its famous lines: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form.” A special dedication is made for the long life and health of the many sponsors of the meal and prayers for auspiciousness to pervade the universe fill the air. The monks stand to fold their golden yellow chögus and slowly leave the hall, walking into the mid-day sun.
You Play an Important Role: Kagyu Monlam Members’ Audience with the Gyalwang Karmapa
An hour before the scheduled audience time of 4.30pm, during the final session on Day 2 of the Kagyu Monlam, the queue of Kagyu Monlam Members already wraps itself entirely around the Tergar gompa like a human kora chain, past the side gate and part way down the road.
Once inside the gompa, the rows of members are tightly packed together; when all the available space is filled, yet more impromptu seats are created. As the crowd waits for the Gyalwang Karmapa to arrive, a spontaneous chant of Karmapa Khyenno breaks out in one corner of the room. Within moments the familiar chant swirls and eddies around the room like a wave, sweeping up all those present, and the Tergar shrine resounds with the sound of all the Kagyu Monlam Members calling their guru from afar.
The Gyalwang Karmapa is a half-hour late; a few floors above the waiting crowd, in his audience room on the roof of Tergar Monastery, he is still busily greeting, blessing, and guiding the endless stream of individuals and smaller groups who have a private audience with him. There are many, many people from all corners of the world waiting to see him, and time doesn’t seem to stretch far enough.
While waiting for the Gyalwang Karmapa to arrive, Lama Chödrak, the CEO of the Kagyu Monlam, addresses the waiting Members. “I want to thank you all very much for supporting the Kagyu Monlam as Members,” he tells them, before reminding them that an ‘annual membership’ is also available as a skillful way to continuously connect with and support the Kagyu Monlam, regardless of whether or not they can physically attend in person each year.
This year there are 12,000 participants at the Kagyu Monlam—the largest number ever—and of those, 1,400 are Members. Membership costs Rs9,500 ($150 or €120) and benefits include: dedicated seating inside the Monlam Pavilion; 3 meals daily, offered at the Mahayana Hotel close to the Mahabodhi Stupa; chartered private busses between the Mahayana Hotel and Tergar Pavilion throughout the day; and of course the much-anticipated private Members’ group audience with Gyalwang Karmapa. But the biggest benefit of membership is the satisfaction and merit of helping to support the Kagyu Monlam.
An expectant hush fills the room as the Gyalwang Karmapa finally arrives—without fanfare, he enters quietly through a side door and strides over to the throne.
He greets all the gathered Members and reflects on how greatly the Monlam has grown over the years. “Now with people from so many different nationalities and languages joining the Kagyu Monlam, it has become a very important spiritual event,” he tells them.
Even though the name is Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, in essence it is a Rime or non-sectarian prayer gathering. It includes prayers done in all Tibetan Buddhist traditions. People of all nationalities and many languages are gathered together. When people collectively put out their pure intentions, this is bound to bear consistent and very powerful results.
Another important part of the Monlam is even though we come from different countries or live in different parts of the world, when it comes to participating in the Kagyu Monlam we express unity. There is unanimity in our intentions—we realize that the common wish of all sentient beings is to be free from suffering and to experience happiness. We realize that the hopes and aspirations of all people are the same, regardless of where they come from.
I understand that you faced many difficulties in coming here. But still you came, and I’m very happy about that. The principal focus of the Kagyu Monlam is to bring about peace in the world, as well as remembering the inconceivable kindness of the Buddha. You’re an integral part in accomplishing these two. You have an important role to play.
Speaking directly in English, His Holiness then sets the audience laughing when he suddenly reminds everyone that he too is a Kagyu Monlam Member. “This time I made sure that they didn’t forget to give me a card. But I didn’t pay any sort of membership fee and I’m not a good example, so don’t look at me okay!”
After spending a beautiful and joyous half-hour with the Members His Holiness then departs, already well behind schedule for his next appointment. Each Member receives a gift as they make their way out of the Tergar shrine – an exquisite colourimage of Gesar of Ling, painted by His Holiness.On their way to the door many devotees spontaneously stop at his throne, some bowing to touch their heads reverently to his seat, and many leaving their khatas and offerings, so that within moments the entire throne disappears under a sea of auspicious white silken scarves. Others mingle in the gompa long after the Gyalwang Karmapa has left, basking in the radiance of his blessings, reluctant to step back into the rest of the world outside.